Saturday, May 28, 2016

Conversion Therapy Quacks and the Demonization of Gays

The Southern Poverty Law Center ("has released a new report on "ex-gay" conversion therapy and the frauds and quacks who advocate for and psychologically torture - and sometimes physically, as well - gays who more often than not are forced into the therapy by their parents, the majority of whom view themselves as "godly Christians."  For those unfamiliar with the SPLC, it was founded in 1971 by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. to work to ensure that the promise of the civil rights movement became a reality for all.  Originally focused on the civil rights of African Americans, SLPC later expanded its focus and now works to ensure civil rights of children, women, the disabled, immigrants and migrant workers, members of the LGBT community, and many others who faced discrimination, abuse or exploitation.  In the process it identifies and works to oppose hate groups of all stripes, including those who hide behind the cloak of religion.  A number of so-called "family values" Christian organization which are sadly provided a platform by a lazy mainstream media have been certified  as hate groups because of the deliberate lies and hatred they promote against the LGBT community and others.  

This past week, SPLC released a report of the fraudulent and potentially deadly "ex-gay" conversion therapy industry which is financed by hate groups and involves unscrupulous quacks and religious extremists.  The lengthy report, which looks at some of the leading quacks of the "industry," can be found here.  It is crucial to remember that behind the support for "ex-gay" conversion therapy, there is the anti-gay political agenda of those I call Christofascists and other right wing religious groups.  It is also important to keep in mind, that such therapy is very lucrative for the parasite like practitioners who promise to do the impossible.  For my part, I am proud that I helped expose Michael Johnston as a fraud and also first unearthed Arthur Goldberg's criminal record.  Here are some report highlights:
Will standing in a circle of naked men deep in the woods turn gay men straight? Is disrobing in front of a mirror alone with your therapist and then touching “your masculinity” a cure for homosexuality? Does beating a pillow representing your mother really help develop “healthy” relationships with other men?
The men and women who people this industry known as “conversion,” “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapists are like modern-day phrenologists, the “experts” beloved by the Nazis who thought they could identify inferior human beings by measuring their subjects’ skulls. They employ theories that have been thoroughly debunked by virtually all relevant medical associations. They cite bizarre studies that were shot down decades ago as key documents. They use techniques that were described in court by one expert as “worse than snake oil.” They are quacks.
[T]he promotion of conversion therapy has a cynical side. If being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is merely a chosen behavior, one that can be “fixed” with the right mental health treatment, then criticizing LGBT people for their sexual choices is akin to simply criticizing bad behavior. Unlike attacking someone for their skin color, reparative therapists can condemn the gay “lifestyle” and still claim that they are not LGBT-hating bigots.
The real science is perfectly clear. A consensus of the vast majority of psychiatrists, psychologists and other counselors and their professional organizations agree that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality. Likewise, they condemn reparative therapy and other attempts to change sexual orientation.
This report is built around revelations that emerged from a lawsuit that was tried in New Jersey last year. Represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and other attorneys, several gay plaintiffs sued Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH (formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), under a state consumer fraud law.
The case did not go well for JONAH. The judge in the case barred almost all testimony from the six experts proffered by the defendants, saying that “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it instead is outdated and refuted.” In the end, the plaintiffs won a hands down victory and JONAH went out of business. But in depositions and the trial itself, the creepy world of reparative therapy was laid bare.
Based on this study, the SPLC recommends several steps:
·        At a minimum, states and localities should outlaw the provision of conversion therapy to minors. Already, four states and two cities have passed such laws. Many more are considering similar action.
·        Congress should pass the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act introduced last year by U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) A companion bill was filed in the Senate this April by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The legislation would classify conversion therapy as a fraudulent practice under the Federal Trade Commission Act, making it illegal to advertise or sell.
·        Professional associations licensing psychiatrists, psychologists and other counselors should sanction members who engage in it.
·        Insurers, both private and public, should refuse to reimburse claims made by reparative therapists.
If these things are not done, if the quacks who make up the reparative therapy business are not stopped, lives will continue to be ruined.
James Phelan, Joseph Berger, Christopher Doyle and Joseph Nicolosi all key figures in the conversion therapy movement wrote lengthy reports to the judge outlining their purported expertise.  Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. barred them all.
Conversion therapy, also known as “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy, is on the ropes. Virtually all relevant U.S. medical associations plus, just this March, the world’s largest professional association of psychiatrists have condemned it. In the last four years, four states and two cities have outlawed its use with minors. One after another, both secular and religious ex-gay groups have been embarrassed by gay sex scandals involving their founders or top officers. And the civil suit against JONAH which produced hair raising testimony about nude counseling sessions, group cuddling exercises, bizarre re-enactments and other “therapy” exposed the creepy world of the conversion therapy industry and the quacks who run it.
But there was a more cynical reason as well. If being gay, lesbian or transgender was a “choice,” as most of the religious and secular right contended, then criticizing the LGBT community would be akin to simply criticizing bad behavior. It was, in other words, fundamentally different than skin color, over which people have no control. The tactic was seen as a firewall against being attacked as gay-hating bigots. While reparative therapists might condemn the gay “lifestyle,” they could still claim to be simply trying to help people clean up their unhealthy and unhappy lives.
At the same time, with the rise of many types of religious fundamentalism, growing numbers of young men and women felt painful conflicts between their own urges and the prohibitions of their faiths. As a result, there was an enormous market of Christians, Jews, Mormons and others who faced condemnation by their co-religionists if they acted on their attractions to members of their own sex.
In 1998, the drive to portray homosexuality as changeable culminated in a $600,000 newspaper ad campaign, entitled “Truth in Love,” that was funded by 15 religious-right groups “the Normandy landing of the culture war,” according to a Family Research Council official. The poster children of this campaign were John and Anne Paulk, who said they were formerly gay but now happily married. A photo of the couple ran on the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Gay for Life?”
After the religious right’s expensive 1998 ad campaign brought the reparative therapy movement to national attention, things went from bad to worse.
John Paulk, who had been the ex-gay poster boy for the 1998 ad campaign, was removed from his position as Exodus board chairman after LGBT activist Wayne Besen photographed him in a Washington, D.C., gay bar. Although Paulk initially dissembled about his reasons for being there, some 15 years later, in 2013, he would divorce his wife and say, “I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.”
Paulk’s fellow ad campaign star, Michael Johnston, soon ran into trouble of his own. Johnston, who had been featured in 1998 TV ads touting reparative therapy and was the founder of “National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day,” was accused in 2003 of infecting men he met via the Internet with HIV. The American Family Association, which had partly funded the ad campaign, acknowledged that Johnston, who was featured in its “It’s Not Gay” video, had had a “moral fall.” Nevertheless, the group, after initially stopping, soon resumed distributing its video.
In 2010, NARTH officer and scientific advisory board member George Rekers was exposed for traveling abroad with a male prostitute. He denied sexual contact with the man, saying he was merely helping to carry luggage, but the man told a wholly different story. Rekers resigned from NARTH’s board a week later.
The reparative therapy movement was also seriously damaged as professional organization after professional organization followed the lead of the American Psychiatric Association in declassifying homosexuality as a disorder.
In November 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against JONAH, founder Arthur Goldberg, affiliated counselor Alan Downing, and Alan Downing Life Coaching LLC. Although the suit would not go to trial until 2015, the 2014 depositions of JONAH’s would be experts already foreshadowed problems in the courtroom.
Some of what came out in those depositions was astonishing. One of the purported experts had cited a study by a “therapist” who turned out, unbeknownst to him, to be a massage therapist. Another’s articles had been published in a “journal” that charges authors $35 a page. Most cited studies that dated back to the 1960s and before and had long been discredited; one of them was a 1947 article on extrasensory perception. One man denied news reports that he had claimed success rates of 75-90%. Another described how clients needed to insist on taking female dates to the restaurant they chose to assert their masculine authority or risk finding themselves attracted to a waiter. The practice of a New Guinea tribe that encourages young boys to consume as much semen from older men as possible was cited with approval as an exercise in building heterosexuality.
And it came out that Goldberg, who had allowed himself to be addressed as “doctor” and “rabbi” although he was neither, was a convicted con man. In 1989, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in a $2 billion municipal bond scheme. The prosecutor said Goldberg, who was later disbarred, was a man who “habitually took advantage of people” and “did not hesitate to lie or cheat or cover up.”
On June 24, 2015, the jury in Judge Bariso’s courtroom unanimously found JONAH had committed consumer fraud and engaged in unconscionable commercial practices under New Jersey law by selling services that it claimed could change clients from gay to straight. In December, as part of a settlement, JONAH agreed to close its doors and its principals promised to cease all related commerce and to resign any leadership posts in ex-gay groups. The plaintiffs were awarded $72,400, and JONAH agreed to pay some of their legal fees.

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